Georgia pick 12 France-based players for Springboks' Test return

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Centre Merab Sharikadze made his Georgia debut in 2012
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Centre Merab Sharikadze will skipper a Georgia team including 12 France-based players against world champions South Africa in Pretoria on Friday in the first match of a two-Test series.

Only wingers Akaki Tabutsadze and Demur Tapladze from Tbilisi side Lelo Saracens and outside centre Giorgi Kveseladze from English Premiership outfit Gloucester are not with French clubs.

Sharikadze is the most experienced starter with 77 caps, followed by lock Konstantin Mikautadze (67), hooker Jaba Bregvadze (66) and scrum-half Vasil Lobzhanidze (58).

Coach Levan Maisashvili included only one uncapped player in his matchday 23 -- replacement prop Luka Japaridze, announced on Wednesday.

Georgia arrived in South Africa fresh from a 48-15 Rugby Europe Championship triumph over the Netherlands last weekend in which full-back David Niniashvili scored three tries and Tabutsadze two.

The Test at Loftus Versfeld will be the second between the countries with South Africa winning a 2003 Rugby World Cup pool match 46-19 in Australia.

South Africa are using the two matches against Georgia to prepare for a three-Test series with the British and Irish Lions, which begins on July 24 in Cape Town.

While the Springboks have been world champions three times, Georgia have won only five of 20 matches in five World Cup appearances.

The best showing by the east European nation was in England six years ago when they defeated Namibia and Tonga to finish third in Pool C behind New Zealand and Argentina.

Although the coronavirus pandemic has prevented South Africa playing a Test since defeating England in the 2019 World Cup final in Japan, they remain the world's top ranked team, 11 places above Georgia.

Georgia team

(15-1)

David Niniashvili; Akaki Tabutsadze, Giorgi Kveseladze, Merab Sharikadze (capt), Demur Tapladze; Tedo Abzhandadze, Vasil Lobzhanidze; Tornike Jalagonia, Beka Saginadze, Giorgi Tsutskiridze; Konstantin Mikautadze, David Gigauri; Giorgi Melikidze, Jaba Bregvadze, Guram Gogichashvili

Replacements: Giorgi Chkoidze, Nikoloz Khatiashvili, Luka Japaridze, Nodar Cheishvili, Giorgi Javakhia, Gela Aprasidze, Giorgi Babunashvili, Ilia Spanderashvili

Coach: Levan Maisashvili (GEO)

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